By Cali Hlavac
October has arrived and that means one thing in our lucky little fishing village – The Destin Fishing Rodeo is underway! Anglers of all ages and charter boats alike are excited and geared up to compete for the first place prize.
Since its inception in 1948, the Destin Fishing Rodeo has expanded into one of the largest fishing tournaments along the Emerald Coast. The rodeo is month-long, from October 1st-31st, and about 30,000 anglers compete each year.
The weigh-ins happen on the docks behind AJs Seafood and Oyster bar, located on the Destin Harbor. They are free to the public and are open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. To participate, charter boats and private boats must be registered at least 24 hours prior to weighing in a fish. There are no fees for anglers fishing on a registered vessel (private or charter) and shore fisherman can participate by simply bringing their catch to the scales. Fish by kayak, paddleboard, pier, bridge, jetty, shoreline and surf – whichever you prefer. Another fun note: every child who enters a fish in the Destin Rodeo that weighs 1 lb. or more will receive a free rod and reel, along with a certificate.
If you’re planning to make a trip down to the docks, expect to see a broad spectrum of fish being weighed in. From Shark to Amberjack, Grouper to King Mackerel, Tuna to Marlin, the rodeo has it all. According to the Destin Rodeo website, “Virtually every gamefish is recognized with awards during the Rodeo.” Rodeo anglers are competing for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes, awarded for both daily and overall large catches.
Most anything caught in the Gulf of Mexico can be weighed in at the Destin Fishing Rodeo, which means there have been a variety of off-the-wall catches to make the scales including alligators, rattle snakes, grandfather clocks, dead deer, and even a drone caught underneath the Destin Bridge. Bruce Cheves has been the Rodeo Weighmaster on the docks for almost 30 years and he feels like he’s seen it all.
2018 marked the 70th year for the Destin Fishing Rodeo and a few changes were made to the leaderboard, including bringing Amberjack back for the first time since 2013. They also removed Sharks from the daily boards, reserving those weigh-ins for Shark Saturdays and Mako My Day Divisions only.
Even if you’re not a fisherman, the energy level and excitement that comes from being at the docks for weigh-ins is like nothing else we’ve ever experienced. Boats back into the scales, pull the fish from their boat while the announcer hypes up the crowd. Fish are strung up on the scale while the crowds cheer and applaud the boat and their team. For the best seat in the house, get there early, grab a few beers and snag a seat on the bleachers by the leaderboard or above on AJs upper deck.
Halloween on the Harbor will signify the end of weigh-ins on Wednesday, October 31, when the captains, anglers, volunteers, and even Miss Destin will be dressed in their favorite costumes. Everyone is invited to partake in the fun!
Cali Hlavac is founder of To Do In Destin and Silver Shade Studios. As a Destin Life columnist and member of the social media team, Cali helps to create a strong brand, along with a strong online presence. You can reach Cali at firstname.lastname@example.org.